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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain


Mrs Irene Probert-Lewis.  Volunteer at Streatham Pool since May 1974.

Q.How did you come into Rathbone Reading Clubs?

A.From 1925 until 1974 I was in the nursing profession and worked for years as a nursing tutor, When I finally had to retire I missed the young girls around me and wanted to do something with young people.  I heard about this literacy scheme for adult illiterates through the B.B.C. and made enquiries at the Norwood Library.  There I was given Mrs. Zonena’s name and address and contacted her.  At first I was very uncertain what to expect but I came along to Streatham Pool where Brenda was the tutor, although she left soon after and Phil took over.

Q.How did you find the structure and operation of the club after your work?

A,At first, very unstructured, although I liked the relaxed informal atmosphere.  I had to get used to levelling my teaching at the student’s own ability and using the material they wanted to work with.  It is necessary to keep the work at a sufficient standard to enable the student to maintain interest as well as progress and it isn’t any use either going too fast, or keeping the material too simple - either way you lose their attention and they become too bored.

Q.Tell me about come of the students you have worked with.

A,Well, there was a young girl who could read but couldn't write.  After about three years, she was able to pass some examinations for nursing and she is well on her way.  Then there’s D ... who has passed her hairdressing diploma and learnt the Highway Code for her driving test.  She couldn't read or write beyond the very basic level when she came here 15 months ago.  What is even nicer, is D’s development in the social field.  Her brother is now quite proud of her; before he treated her with some unkindness - as if she was a fool.  It’s very satisfying to see that kind of progress in the development of the individual.


What about the social aide of the Club?

A.Well, I’m rather limited by my arthritis, and can’t join in at the pub, but I do enjoy the social atmosphere we get, and the other parties at various clubs.  I try to go whenever I can.  As for the informal atmosphere during the working times I think that is informal, but carefully controlled, it isn’t half as unstructured as it seems to be to an outsider.  The occasional disruptive disturbed student can be contained if carefully handled.28

Q.So you enjoy your work?

A,Most certainly, it keeps me young and, I feel so much satisfaction when a student succeeds even by a small step,

28 In the middle of my conversation with Mrs, Probert-Lewis I saw this in action with a mentally handicapped student eager to talk to her and to find out who I was and what I was doing.

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 34 of 51

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